As suggested by Twitter user @j0vFeet1 aka. Mark William Walker, I’m going explain two different ways I use minimalism as a philosophy to improve my life by clarifying my goals, building positive relationships and increasing efficiency in my writing.
Minimalism is basically having less, doing less and being less.
No wonder it runs contrary to everything we think will make us successful, but then people who practice minimalism claim it does. Curious, isn’t it?
To understand the confusion, it helps to distinguish between the two basic ways minimalist philosophy is applied in a practical manner to the way a person conducts their life. It can be both an end in itself – as an austere yet aesthetic approach to living – or it can a mean simplifying processes to achieve clearly defined ends.
Minimalism for its own sake
There are people who own nothing more than they absolutely need to sustain their life. Mahatma Gandhi had this down to a science. So did Diogenes of Sinope who claimed to have owned a cup that he threw away after seeing a child drinking from a trough. They are hardcore. For them, minimalism isn’t what they can do with less. It’s just about having less and less and less… almost like an addiction to nothingness.
And as Gandhi was noted for depending on friends to fund him to conduct his political affairs, it raises the question of whether minimalism should be defined in terms of what is owned or what is used. A person may own little and life lavishly if they are dependent on someone who has the means – not that Gandhi did. But, minimalism for its own sake is often made complex when we consider what the person owns versus what they use.
And although on the surface they may look indistinguishable from people who experience poverty without choosing it, no one would argue that Diogenes or Gandhi led rich, productive and meaningful lives.
Less famous people have chosen the path of extreme minimalism, because they found a simpler life to be equally rewarding. And they probably came to that conclusion through a process of eliminating what was not needed after they had accumulated possessions.
Because, by this definition, we’re all born extreme minimalists. That silver spoon? It belongs to the parents.
Minimalism for finding purpose
No one knows why we search for meaning in our lives. Why can’t we just wake, bath, eat, sleep and keeping going without trying to decide on some grander ultimate purpose? Like I said, no one knows, but it seems to be one of the constants in the world.
At some point, every person realizes that their time on earth is finite. Consciously or unconsciously people began to fill a bucket list of things they want to do before the end. Some of these personal goals may be easily attained requiring few resources and few steps while others demand intense labor, time and focus.
For people who decide early on large and definite goals, like becoming a career author – not that I know anything about that – sacrifices must be made, because time is finite. You just have to do the math. If we expend our resources and our efforts broadly, we make less progress toward larger goals.
For the person who has decided on a single ultimate purpose, minimalism means eliminating what detracts from that goal. If we own less, we spend less time and effort maintaining our possessions. So, the minimalist with purpose, keeps what they need and throws away what they do not. They do not put effort into relationships or activities that derail them from their ultimate goal.
How many hobbies do I need?
I may have eight that I enjoy, but I only need two or three to get the benefit of relaxing and connecting with my friends. I gave away old equipment. I have paints, crochet needles, pencils and fishing supplies.
How much clothing do I need?
I could keep everything that doesn’t fit or old clothes with good memories. I could have six cardigans, but maybe I only need four. I certainly can’t wear two pairs of athletic shoes at the same time.
What do I need in my home?
For sometime now, that’s how my homes – wherever I’ve lived – have been described. Also, they’re pretty clean, because one desk and a mattress on wooden slats doesn’t require much to maintain. Certainly, I’ve got a laptop, a carrying case, a suitcase, space heater, art supplies, coffee cup, bowl, rice boiler…
But, I can pack it all up and move in half a day using one vehicle.
While its certainly possible for anyone to live this way, I found after making a few moves overseas that I never missed most of what I’d put in storage. After four or five years, I decided saving money mattered more than accumulating things I might equally not need. And considering how much I don’t enjoy cleaning, spartan works for me.
What do I need to eat? To maintain personal hygiene? Take care of my health?
Every day I make and eat food. If I’m good, I exercise. While I have an exercise mat and dumbbells, I also have a membership to a gym. And I keep two bags of tolietries. And an upright steamer. I love that thing even if I hardly use it.
And while it is true that I could live with less, I’m not interested in washing my hair with baking soda. And though I try to keep my grocery list simple, I am still working on figuring out how to stay in good health through trial and error. I buy things. Sometimes they work. Sometimes not so much.
What records do I need to keep?
I’ve often considered sitting down and scanning all of my paper records. I have one file folder with various old rental agreements, job and tax data, health records, birth certificates, but I haven’t done it yet.
Minimalism for a purpose isn’t about finding the least a person can live with. It’s about simplifying processes and resources to focus efforts.
Minimalism for achieving goals
All minimalists have one thing in common. They assess complex processes and remove the unnecessary materials and actions to reveal the least needed for achieving any personal objective.
Everyone engages in this practice to some degree daily when they prioritize what they need to do and what they need to do it. Some people find themselves chronically behind schedule or with a to-do list that never seems to get completed. Other people buy supplies to do things that never happen and then each year have the garage sales to prove it.
As a writer, I initially tried to write short stories, articles, novels, novellas, non-fiction, fantasy, science fiction…
My head hurts just thinking about it. In the end, I developed goals for my writing and stopped doing things that detracted from what I wanted to achieve. I quit trying every method to develop my writing and developed a process that was efficient and time saving. I no longer try to keep up with every mover and shaker in the industry. I follow fewer writers.
Consciously choosing to keep my life simple has been critical for me as a traveler and a writer. Its helped me keep my life organized while living with balance and hearing loss – less to fall on. As I benefited more and more from minimalist philosophy, I began to the strategy to every part of my life.
I stopped putting effort into relationships that had made my difficult childhood transition into a difficult young adulthood. Maybe that was the best lesson, because I wasted so much time and too many things never changed.
What We Learn From Minimalist Living
True freedom from want
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that I am free from the pain of wanting and not having. I gain and lose possessions, but I am attached only to my coffee and my friendships. I know what I really need to survive.
Freedom from spending to earn
I don’t feel caught in the cycle of spending money to earn more money only to spend more money so I can earn more waiting for that day when I might slow down and actually enjoy what I have accomplished. I work as much as I need to maintain my simple life and keep writing. I write with the vain hope of being read by millions not earning millions.
Freedom from drama
I maintain relationships with people who make me laugh, smile and feel good about my life. I don’t get sucked into a whirlpool of drama from which there is no escape. I do nothing for appearances. I don’t associate with people in order to take a photo with them or brag about it.
Understanding quality and value
The old refrain can be said a million times “quality over quantity” without a person having a moment of epiphany wherein the fluid nature of value begins to congeal in relation to the self.
A person buys a car. It costs 36,000 dollars until he drives it off the lot and then its worth 25% less. He spends interest on the loan and more on car insurance over the seven years he owned it, but it looked good.
The next person buys the car for 5,000 dollars and it loses no value during purchase. She pays no interest and less on car insurance. One repair and new tires. It didn’t look as good, but few people really cared and it was sold for 3,000 dollars seven years later.
In the end, the difference between the cost of the vehicle, the insurance and interest, repairs and resale value meant that he spent 40,000 to drive the car for 7 years and she spent 4,000 to drive it the same amount of time.
This is the real story behind the vehicle I owned during my twenties. The first owner valued what other people thought of the car he drove. I valued the car’s ability to take me where I needed to go. While there is no right or wrong way to assign value and there are certainly intangible benefits from impressing people, the first owner was one of those people who bought more car than he could afford and his family had suffered.
He had wanted quality. So did I. I felt I got it. He didn’t.
Still fascinates me.
Freedom from the past
A large part of our life may be dedicating to dealing with things that have already ended. Old relationships taking up residence in our heads. Old stuff that we keep around just in case. Old habits that once worked, but now only hold us back.
When we eliminate what isn’t needed, we’re left with only what serves our present and our future. Old friends and old memories are still critical, but why not keep the good and let the rest go?
Less stress and more happiness
Every time we decide to keep or discard something in our home, our activities, our habits or our life, we’re making a choice about our future and what we want it to look like – what we want in it.
I didn’t become a minimalist to make myself a happier person, but it’s the best side effect of the process. I remember periods of time when I worried and cried a lot. I felt overwhelmed by everything I had to do to finish school, be a good parent and meet society’s unreasonable and conflicting demands for a young mother.
My parents couldn’t guide me. They’d taken opposite directions. Both had remarried just after I was born and spent their lives with their second spouse. One set earned significantly more than the other. But, they were miserable and the other was happy and radiated a suspicious amount of joy.
The parent who had more thought they were better. And often said so. The parent who had less didn’t care about who was better than who. He was too busy living a good life and loving his spouse and the people around them.
And in the end, if you looked in their homes, you wouldn’t see much difference in what their earning had afforded. One had traveled more. The other had been more creative.
But, one was happier.
After many years of observation and trying it both ways, I think I finally understand why we embrace minimalism and love it so much.